Bob Berkman

Bob Berkman
Program Host

Bob Berkman, a native Clevelander, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre at that city’s Case Western Reserve University, where he also studied piano with Jeanette Cherubini and composition with Bernard Frum.

 In 1975, he was hired by QRS in Buffalo, the world’s last piano roll manufacturer, where he produced a constant flow of new recordings for over 30 years and spearheaded the creation of a musical library for the emerging technology of digital player pianos.  His credits include appearances on NPR, the BBC, and CBS Sunday Morning; rolls commissioned for the films Ragtime and Reds, the latter in cooperation with composer Stephen Sondheim; and the Pianola world premieres of Serge Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf and Erik Satie’s Parade, the latter at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.  Local venues have included the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Burchfield Penney 

Art Center,  Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Villa Maria College, and Baird Recital Hall at the University of Buffalo.

 

During a two-year hiatus from QRS in the mid-1980s, Bob served on the staff of IMG Artists in Manhattan, a firm which manages the careers of leading classical musicians. His charges included violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.  Since 1996, he has served on the Artistic Committee of the Mikhashoff Trust for New Music, named for the late, distinguished American pianist, Yvar Mikhashoff. The Trust encourages the study and creation of new music through grants and commissions worldwide.

 

All the while, Bob has steadily earned an international reputation as a master Pianolist, revealing to delighted listeners the expressive capabilities of the instrument while showcasing its remarkably varied repertoire.  His 1912 “push-up” Pianola effectively turns any piano into a player piano, enabling him to entertain on concert stages across the continent, and he is increasingly in demand as a speaker and performer.  Each of his innovative programs casts the instrument as an “ear-witness” to the 20th century, whether the focus is the concert hall or the dance hall, the battlefield or Ellis Island; and many of the programs are enhanced by a superb selection of visual images via Power Point.  Of a recent performance in New York, presenter and NPR producer Henry Sapoznik wrote, “You were a major hit of the event, and many great musicians whom I had on staff were thunderstruck by the scope and depth of your work.”  Bob also appears as one half of Duo Shiddach, a unique pianola/Theremin-cello partnership with cellist Jonathan Golove.

 

In addition to developing text and exhibits for the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix,  Bob was engaged to demonstrate the Pianola for the museum’s video archive as well as for both the Society of American Musicologists and the American Musical Instrument Society.  His particular interest in the neglected area of ethnic rolls prompted him to establish the largest institutionally-held collection of such rolls at the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive, where he has taught and performed as a Visiting Scholar. He recently produced recordings of several mythically-rare Arabic rolls for the documentary film Cedars In The Pines by Akram Khater, tracing Lebanese immigration in North Carolina, and participated in an international recording project for the University of Kaunas to preserve Lithuanian rolls. Klezmerola, Bob’s CD of rare Jewish rolls from his unique collection, has become something of an underground hit in klezmer circles and is regarded by noted tsimbl revivalist Pete Rushefsky as “a fabulous and important accomplishment that deepens our access to historical materials.”